Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia recently posted a Jewish response (Torturing the Image of God) to the Pew Study on White Evangelical and Catholic Christians justifying torture that I blogged about earlier.
I appreciate his provocative teaching. Here’s an excerpt:
One of the central teachings of Torah is that all human beings are made in the Image of God. That teaching and what flows from it are at the heart of Jewish prohibitions on the use of torture — and perhaps at the heart of Christian opposition to torture as well.
Indeed, the Rabbis – living under the Roman Empire – enriched that teaching about the Image as a direct challenge to the power of Rome, the Imperial fount of torture. One of them asked, “What does this mean, ‘In God’s image?’” And another answered, “When Caesar puts his image on a coin, all the coins come out identical. When that One who is beyond all rulers puts the divine image on a ‘coin,’ all the coins [that is, human beings] come out unique.”
Take into account the Rabbinic teaching that Caesar puts his rigid uniformity upon his coins, whereas the Infinite God puts uniqueness into God’s coins: that is, every human being. Surely Jesus, the radical rabbi from the Galilee, knew this teaching.
So I believe there is a missing line in the Gospel story. Either Jesus didn’t need to say it because his first question would reawaken the knowledge in those who were trying to trouble him, or it was later censored out because it was so radical:
“Whose image is on that coin?” he said, and they answered: “Caesar’s.”
And then I think he said, “And whose Image is on this coin?” as he put his hands on the shoulders of the troublemakers.
Only then did he say, “So give to Caesar what is Caesar’s — and give to God what is God’s!”
And of course, as the Gospels say, the troublemakers themselves went away deeply troubled — not because they had failed to trick him, but because he had forced them to think and feel and act anew as they opened themselves to experience the Image of God in themselves. And to understand that the Divine Image stood in radical contradiction to Caesar’s image, so that the world could not be neatly and comfortably divided into two different realms, one “spiritual” and one “political.”
This teaching needs to be renewed in every generation.
Read Rabbi Waskow’s full text here.